Back in San Diego, California
After spending more than 30 years in Adelaide, South Australia, Len and I decided to shift back to San Diego, as part of our plan to spend part of the year in the U.S. and part of the year in Australia. Yes, the sun does shine a lot in Southern California, and while a lot of the country is suffering with heat and humidity, we are enjoying the mild summer here with cool ocean breezes.
We felt we had definitely landed in San Diego when we realized we were the only customers (out of about 50) who were speaking English in a cable T.V. store that we were visiting. With a large Hispanic population, you are more apt to hear Spanish being spoken in Southern California, rather than English.
So, what better way to celebrate our visit to San Diego, than to cook up some Mexican recipes from scratch! Here is a recipe for Pork Tamales in Chile Sauce, using soft shredded pork wrapped around a rich cornmeal dough (called masa in Spanish) and topped with a spicy chili (chile) sauce.
The tamale dough is made from a Corn Masa Mix, which is ground corn treated with lime. I drove to a special Mexican grocery store near the Mexican border to buy this mix and then the next day saw this was sold in all supermarkets here!
So go on, toss out those old El Paso instant taco seasoning mixes (like I did) and grind up your own chiles to make up your own delicious Mexican dishes from scratch!
Note: I found that the first batch of tamales turned out rather bland, so I kept on adding enough chile powder and cumin to the shredded pork to get the taste to my liking.
Pork Tamales in Chile Sauce
For the Pork Filling:
- pork butt or shoulder roast (1 – 2 lbs or 500 g to 1 kg)
- 3 garlic cloves
- 1 tsp salt
- 4 peppercorns
- 1 cinnamon stick (optional)
- 1/2 onion, coarsely chopped
For the Chile Sauce:
- 2 ancho chiles, seeded
- 3 arbol chiles, seeded
- 1 tsp cumin
- 3 cups (750 ml) pork cooking broth
- salt to taste
- 1/2 cup (75 g) corn starch or corn flour
- 1 tsp sugar
For the Tamale Dough (‘Masa’)
- 4 cups (1.25 kg) Corn Masa Mix*
- 2 tsp chile powder
- 1 1/2 tsp baking powder
- 3 – 4 cups lukewarm water
- 1 cup (250 g) pork lard or solid vegetable shortening
- Salt to taste
- 30 dried corn husks
* Corn Masa Mix is ground corn treated with lime. This can be found in food specialty shops or just about any supermarket in Southern California.
For the Pork Filling:
- Place the pork, garlic, salt, peppercorns, onion and cinnamon stick in a large saucepan or Dutch oven. Add enough water to cover the ingredients. Bring to a boil and skim off any foam. Reduce heat to low, cover the pan and simmer until the meat is tender and falls off the bone (about 2 hours).
- When the meat is cooked, transfer to a bowl and set aside. Strain the remaining cooking broth through a sieve; there should be at least three cups of broth remaining (if not, top-up with more water).
- After the meat cools, shred using several forks.
For the Chile Sauce:
- Remove the stems from the ancho and arbol chiles; slit the chiles down the middle and remove the seeds. Toast the chiles by placing them in a fry pan on the stovetop. Over medium heat, press the chiles down using a spatula, about 1 minute each side. The chiles should turn color slightly and be dry and toasted.
- Chop the chiles coarsely, then place them in a blender with about 1/2 cup of the pork cooking broth. Blend until the mixture is smooth in consistency. Add this chile mixture to the reserved pork cooking broth.
- Now add 1/2 cup water (room temperature) to 1/2 cup corn starch (or corn flour) to make a paste. Gradually add this paste to the cooking broth, while stirring over medium-low heat, to thicken.
- After the sauce has thickened, add the sugar, cumin powder and salt to taste. Add more cumin if you like your food spicier.
- Add about 3/4 cup of the chile sauce to the shredded pork mixture for flavoring. Add some chile powder to the pork for extra flavouring, if desired.
Arbol Chiles – very potent!
Ancho Chiles – sweet and smoky flavor
For the Tamale Dough:
- In large bowl, stir together the corn masa mix, baking powder and chile powder. Add enough luke-warm water (3 – 4 cups) to make a moist batter.
- Now stir in the pork lard or vegetable shortening, beating until the mixture is light and spreadable. Add salt to taste. Knead the dough slightly with your hands to form a ball of dough.
- Soak about 30 dried corn husks in water for 15 minutes. Drain and pat dry.
To Assemble the Tomales:
- Form a small ball using about 2 tbsp of the dough mixture and place in the middle of corn husk (which has been soaked in water).
- Spread the dough into a thin layer (1/8 inch thick) on the lower half of the corn husk, leaving a margin of about 1 inch around the sides and bottom of the husk.
- Spread 2 tbsp of the shredded pork in the center of the dough
- Fold the long edges of the husk over the filling, overlapping them.
- Fold under the pointed end of the husk.
- Turn the tamale over. Tie the top end of each tamale using thin strips cut from the corn husks.
Cooking the Tamales
- To steam the tamales, take a large pot or Dutch oven and place a round wire rack on the bottom. Fill the bottom of the pot with water, with the water level ending slightly below the rack.
- If you are steaming lots of tomales, place the first tamales in the center of the pot and then work them around the pot in a circular fashion (I only cooked a small batch of tamales, so I placed them inside several pastry rings to support them in the middle of the pot).
- Place a lid on top and steam on medium heat for about 1 hour, or until the dough falls easily away from the corn husk. Be careful that the water does not touch the tamales as they cook.
- To serve, spoon the chile sauce on top of the tamales.